date: 29 May 2007
embargo: 00:01 hours Thursday May 31 2007
Top business leaders have joined a Commission to investigate vulnerable working in the UK launched by the TUC today (Thursday).
The Commission on Vulnerable Employment will investigate the extent of workplace exploitation and consider improvements to the enforcement regime and legal protection available for vulnerable staff.
Over the next week, the TUC is calling on people who have experienced exploitation at work to call a freephone number (0800 072 0010) open from 31 May to 6 June to tell their story, or to report their experiences by post or via the web ( www.vulnerableworkers.org.uk).
The Commission launches today (Thursday) in Manchester through a series of meetings with exploited workers, including migrant workers and homeworkers, as well as organisations who work on their behalf.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Most people will have the odd grumble about their job, but are treated fairly most of the time. But some workers still experience rank exploitation that Charles Dickens would recognise. Most of the time their experience is hidden, but we have had a recent rash of shocking exposures of poor treatment. The job of our new Commission is to shine a light on Britain's hidden exploited workers, and work out what government, employers and unions should be doing to protect them.
'I'm delighted that we are being joined by business, community and expert members. Well-run businesses have nothing to fear from our work, but everything to lose from unfair competition with companies that rely on exploitation and law breaking to drive their business plan. And there are encouraging signs that government stands ready to listen to our findings.'
Commissioners from the world of business include Chairman of SERCO Kevin Beeston, Jaeger Chief Executive Belinda Earl and Land Securities Group Chair Paul Myners. Kevin Beeston said: 'As a leading public service employer, SERCO champions good employment practice and is keen to assist in supporting fair and progressive employment conditions for all. The Commission is important because there is a real lack of information about the most vulnerable workers in our society and the Commission will significantly assist our understanding and possible solutions.'
Belinda Earl said: ' I became a member of the Commission as I support its cause to improve the working conditions and rights of Britain's vulnerable workers, and would like to play a part in making this goal a reality.' Paul Myners added: ' I am optimistic the Commission will produce important insights into issues confronting those in vulnerable employment and be a source of practical proposals.'
In a report prepared for the Commission launch www.tuc.org.uk/extras/covebriefing.pdf the TUC says up to one in five of the workforce may be considered vulnerable workers. They include agency workers - particularly the unskilled, casual workers, industrial home workers and migrant workers. Examples of exploitation include low pay, including illegal and unfair deductions from the minimum wage; unsafe workplaces; limited rights to leave; lack of control over working time and lack of security. Workers face exploitation both because existing rights are not properly enforced and because unscrupulous employers exploit loopholes in existing protection, says the TUC.
The members of the Commission are:
Brendan Barber, General Secretary, TUC (Commission Chair)
Kevin Beeston, Chairman, SERCO
Belinda Earl, Chief Executive, Jaeger
Paul Myners, Chair, Land Securities Group
Mohammed Aziz , Director, Faithwise
Fran Bennett , Senior Research Fellow, Oxford University
Madeleine Bunting , Associate Editor and Columnist, The Guardian
Julia Verne, Director, Polski Bristol
Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary, Amicus
Debbie Coulter, Deputy General Secretary, GMB
Jack Dromey, Deputy General Secretary, TGWU
John Hannett, General Secretary, USDAW
Leslie Manasseh, Deputy General Secretary, Connect
Frances O'Grady, Deputy General Secretary, TUC
Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON
Alan Ritchie, General Secretary, UCATT
Full biographies of each Commissioner are available at this link: http://www.vulnerableworkers.org.uk/about/commission-members/
- Maggie (not her real name) is a domestic worker who came to the UK in 2004 from West Africa, and is being supported by Kalaya'an (a support group for migrant domestic workers): 'After my parents died I found an employer who arranged for me to come to the UK. My employer kept me indoors and would not allow me to go out of the house. Any work I did was allotted time - if I spent less time than allotted for a task, my employer would penalise me by deducting money from my wages. Sometimes my employer even said that he had to borrow money from me and as such pay me half my wages. Any 'borrowed' money was never repaid. Whenever my visa was due for renewal, my employer would automatically deduct £350 from my wages, which he claimed went towards the renewal process of my visa. On many occasions I went without money. Leaving was not an option because my employer said that I had to pay £4,000 before he could let me go. They also kept my passport, there was no holiday allowance, I was not given any free time and it felt like being in prison. Then one day and out of the blue, I was sacked and thrown out of the house. I had no passport, no money, and nowhere to go.'
- Adam Semetka travelled from Slovakia to Devon in 2005 after being offered a job with Birchwood Stud Ltd, near North Tawton. Adam was paid for the first 28 weeks of his employment but things began to go wrong after he visited his family: 'I was told there was a problem with the bank and that these problems would be resolved the following week or soon after. I thought nothing of this because I had been paid on a regular basis until then and I considered my employment secure. When I asked about payment I was told various things such as Mr Birch was abroad or he was doing a new business deal that needed additional capital and that I would be repaid with interest. These excuses were very plausible and said with such conviction that I fully believed them.' Sadly, despite a number of minor payments, Mr Semetka never saw the money and, when he complained, was served an eviction notice from his accommodation on Mr Birch's property. He turned to the South West TUC for support and Joseph Birch, owner of Birchwood Stud Ltd, has recently been ordered to pay Adam £11,500 following an employment tribunal.
- Pamela James worked as a homeworker and - like many homeworkers - has fought an ongoing battle to secure the minimum wage: 'I delivered parcels on behalf on a well-known company but because I didn't get any fuel allowances it worked out I was being paid a lot less than the minimum wage - often between £1-£3 an hour. My employers said that because I was a home worker I was 'self-employed' and so not entitled to get the minimum wage, due to the technicalities in the law.' With the support of the National Group on Homeworking, Pamela fought for the minimum wage. An initial employment tribunal found in favour of her company, however an employment appeals tribunal has since decided her case should be looked at again.
- For an interview with Pamela or for further case studies please contact the TUC press office.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
- Commissioners attending the Manchester launch are: Brendan Barber, Fran Bennett, Debbie Coulter and Leslie Manasseh.
- Opportunities to interview Commissioners and case studies: Wednesday 30 May
7-830pm at Migrant Workers UK, Manchester: Commissioners will meet with migrant workers, Migrant Workers NW and Oxfam. Thursday 31 May 10-1130am at Gorton Community Centre, Manchester: Commissioners will meet with agency workers, workers who have sought legal support with grievances at work, Aspire (a social enterprise run by East Manchester New Deal for Communities) and North Manchester Law Centre. 1230-1430pm at the Greater Manchester Centre for Community Organisations (GMCVO): Commissioners will meet with home workers, the National Group on Homeworking and the Rochdale Homeworkers Project.
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